Editor's Letter: Local Visibility of Water Infrastructure Is Key to Inspiring Action

The Value of Water Coalition published a research report outlining the criticality of acknowledging buried infrastructure and focusing on ways to connect it to our daily lives and economy. It touches on key topics and compiles the results of a nationwide survey gauging the public's views about water and the water system.

Jun 2nd, 2014
Angela Godwin

When you deal with water issues on a daily basis - as a utility, equipment provider, advocate, or, yes, even as an editor - you are acutely aware of the infrastructure challenges facing our nation. To us, it's clear that our network of underground pipes (some three million miles of them) is deteriorating faster than it can be replaced, that our water supplies are increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events, and that the technology needed to treat water and wastewater to acceptable levels is incredibly complex (read: expensive).

But to the general public, water and wastewater infrastructure is, for the most part, invisible: pipes are buried underground and treatment plants are typically tucked away from view. It's simply not something the average American thinks about. Until there is a problem.

One group has made it its mission to change that. Formed in October 2013, The Value of Water Coalition brings together a diverse group of water and wastewater industry stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. Current members include: American Water, American Water Works Association (AWWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), CH2M HILL, MWH Global, National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), United Water, Veolia Water, Water Environment Federation (WEF), Xylem Inc., and the U.S. Water Alliance, which currently serves as the group's project manager.

Recently, the group published a research report outlining the criticality of acknowledging our buried infrastructure and focusing on ways to connect it to our daily lives and our economy. "From Invisible to Invaluable: Changing the Way We Think About Water Infrastructure" touches on a variety of key topics - such as the economic benefit of investing in water infrastructure - and compiles the results of a nationwide survey gauging the public's views about water and the water system.

The research showed that Americans have a general understanding of the connection between infrastructure investment and job growth at the macro-level. But what really drives their level of interest is the impact at the local level. "Seeing where jobs are created in their specific cities and counties makes the issue much more pertinent, thereby driving the desire to take action," the report concluded.

Consequently, the report proposed two strategies that water infrastructure advocates should use in their quest to increase investment. First, it's important to raise issues at the local level. "Individuals need to specifically understand the benefits of a certain investment in the local water system in terms of new jobs created and growth to the overall community's economy," the report explained. And second, communication must be a priority. It's important "to remind water services customers that water infrastructure is not just water treatment plants for delivering clean tap water, but also the systems that treat wastewater and stormwater, and the pipes that bring all these components together."

As a follow-up to the release of its research, The Value of Water Coalition put together a fascinating and informative discussion panel during Infrastructure Week. Guests included George Hawkins, General Manager, DC Water; Tony Parrott, Executive Director, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati; Ken Kopocis, Senior Advisor for Water, U.S. EPA; Ed Pinero, Chief Sustainability Officer, Veolia North America; and Mark Strauss, Sr. VP of Corporate Strategy and Business Development, American Water. If you missed the broadcast, I would encourage you to check out the archived recording. It's well worth the time! You can find it here: http://thevalueofwater.org/invisible-invaluable-changing-way-think-water-infrastructure.

Angela Godwin
Chief Editor, WaterWorld
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